Dance may seem like an uncomplicated art form—its primary material is, after all, the human body—but paradoxically, it’s probably the most expensive and difficult to produce. Finding rehearsal and performance space, raising money, building audiences, paying experienced dancers and theatre crew, these are ongoing challenges even for established companies and renowned choreographers. But what about an emerging artist? How does a choreographer at the beginning stages of a career even think about producing polished, professional work?
The Atlanta-based arts organization Dance Canvas seeks to ease some of the problems associated with the first difficult steps in a dance career by connecting emerging choreographers with the resources they need to create. Now in its fifth season, the organization annually provides a group of about eight emerging Atlanta choreographers with professional dancers, rehearsal space, and workshops, all leading up to a popular showcase performance at the 14th Street Playhouse. This year’s program takes place January 18-19, and in addition to providing opportunity for young artists, it’s also a way for audiences to take a quick, broad look at what’s going on with Atlanta’s emerging choreographic talent. We caught up with Dance Canvas participant Kassandra Taylor Newberry to talk about her work and how Dance Canvas fits into her career.
BURNAWAY: Tell us about the piece we’ll be seeing at Dance Canvas.
Kassandra Taylor Newberry: The choreography I’ve created is called (con)version. It’s a piece that is abstractly conceptualized around each human’s individual artistic voice and the path we take to exploring and creating ourselves. The dancers wear socks in the piece—they visually create the idea of tasting freedom from conformity when they are pulled off, and then back on when fear becomes present. By the end of the piece there is a sense of awareness of their uniqueness and having the audacity to let their voices be heard.
BA: How would you describe your style to someone who had never seen your work?
KTN: I would tell them that my style is quirky, out-of-the-box contemporary; hopefully something they may have never seen before.
BA: How has Dance Canvas helped you realize the work?
KTN: I was in DC last year as a dancer in two pieces and really enjoyed my experience, so I applied as a choreographer. Angela [Angela Harris, Dance Canvas Founder] has done a wonderful job of mentoring my process as a choreographer so that I felt supplied with the dancers and the rehearsal spaces I needed. She has attended rehearsal and been very approachable with all my questions along the way. I’ve been fortunate to be able to choreograph on pre-professional companies in the area, but because of this dedicated organization, I will be able for the first time to showcase my work on professionals in the Atlanta area.
BA: What do you hope to accomplish through Dance Canvas?
KTN: Dance Canvas is an incredible organization that hopes to make Atlanta more arts conscious and provide great networking for professionals in the dance field. With that said, I’m hopeful that this will lead to exposure of my work and possibly job opportunities on professional companies.
BA: What’s the next step for you as a choreographer?
KTN: I will continue to create…it’s in my blood and I can’t imagine a life not doing it. I have six new pieces that are in the works right now, as well as a full production, so I will stay incredibly busy in these next few months to come. Wherever my path takes me after DC I will be grateful for the opportunity to present my work.
BA: Tell us a little bit more about your background and your future plans.
KTN: I grew up here in Atlanta and danced under the direction of my mom at Roswell Dance Theater. Upon graduating high school I was accepted on multiple scholarships to attend Point Park University (an arts conservatory in Pittsburgh, PA) when I graduated magna cum laude with a BFA in jazz dance. After that I moved to San Francisco to become a trainee with Alonzo King’s LINES Contemporary Ballet. For the next few years I lived in Utah as a ballet mistress and resident choreographer for Salt Lake Ballet Conservatory, then Pittsburgh to perform with Dance Theater of Pittsburgh, then to North Carolina to become a founding member and principal dancer for the Winston Salem Festival Ballet Company. While working in NC I met my husband (a singer/songwriter). We were both hired to be guest artists in a local show—he sang, I danced—we fell in love and moved to Atlanta. Over the years I have been fortunate to teach all over the country and showcase my work to thousands of students. My future involves possibly developing my own project company in the next few years to bring more dance to Atlanta.
Kassandra Taylor Newberry presents the new work (con)version alongside the work of seven other emerging Atlanta choreographers at Dance Canvas, Friday and Saturday, January 18-19, at 8 p.m. at the 14th Street Playhouse, 173 14th Street NE. For more information, you can purchase tickets here or visit Dance Canvas.